Thursday, July 31, 2008

Second Season at the Headhouse Farmers Market

There's been a tremendous explosion in the spread and popularity of the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" credo in the Philadelphia area over the last few years. One need look no further than this year's schedule of markets organized by The Food Trust and Farm to City to get a sense of just how much great stuff is out there. As much as I love my local market, it's hard to deny that the area's most vibrant, thriving and diverse center for regional growers -- and local shoppers -- must be The Headhouse Farmers Market.

Last Sunday, I finally made it down to Headhouse for the first time this season, ostensibly to lend a hand to a friend who has a table there. During the rare lull in activity, I took the opportunity to wander around, do a little provisioning and snap a few photos.

The market is anchored by fresh fruit and vegetable growers such as Blooming Glen Farm (above) and Weavers Way (below).

Headhouse gains depth from the range and diversity of its many small, specialty producers, such as Yoder Heirlooms (above) and Culton Organics. I'm pretty sure that's Tom Culton sportin' the straw cap in the photo below but please correct me if I'm wrong. My note taking was nonexistent, so I'm working on memory cells here.

Spring Hills Farm is another of the market's specialty producers. Emily (pictured above) worked the market all day selling wool and maple syrup, two of the primary products (along with Xmas trees) harvested on her family's property in Dalton, PA.

Lunchtime: Tacos al Pastor and Huitlacoche Quesadillas. If hunger strikes, seriously good Mexican street food is available right at the market, prepared by the crew from South Philly's Los Taquitos de Puebla.

A shot of the market crowd as the ring of the closing bell approached.

Headhouse Farmers Market
Sundays from 10AM to 2PM
Under the Shambles at
2nd & Lombard Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Putting Riedel Stemware to the Test

Monday just past offered up a welcome diversion to the usual workday. I teamed up with Jason Donnelly, Director of Wholesale Operations for Murray’s Cheese, to lead an early evening pairing seminar on the wines and cheeses of the Loire Valley at Wilmington, Delaware restaurant and wine bar, Domaine Hudson.

As Jason, one of my coworkers and I enjoyed dinner after the event, Domaine Hudson’s owner, Tom Hudson, stopped by to chat. Just back from a trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Tom mentioned that nearly all of the wineries he’d visited were using the same glass in their tasting rooms, a new product from Austrian stemware giant Riedel. He’d ordered some of the glasses as soon as he returned home and wondered if we’d be up for a little taste test. As if he really had to ask….

I’ve been a longtime user of Riedel’s stemware. My cabinet is stocked with red and white Burgundy, Bordeaux, Riesling, and Port glasses, along with Champagne flutes. I do feel that each glass achieves an elegance of appearance and delivers a clear functionality.

Over the past few years, though, it seems like Riedel has introduced new stemware – and stemless ware – lines as frequently as the average Hollywood star introduces new cosmetic enhancements, which is to say alarmingly often. As with the multiplicity of unnatural applications for silicone and botox, I can’t help but have questioned the issue of form versus function, style versus substance, when it comes to some of Riedel’s recent product launches. So I was happy for this chance to put one of their latest designs to the test.

At left, my traditional standby for red Burgundy, Barolo and other aromatically intense wines, the Vinum Burgundy glass. At right, the new Vinum XL Pinot Noir stem; it's not as huge as the relative scale of these photos makes it look but it is taller than its cousin. (Images courtesy of

The glass in question is the Pinot Noir stem, part of Riedel’s new Vinum XL line. The only entry in the line that bears any drastic visual difference from the traditional Vinum series, the Pinot Noir glass is taller than the Vinum Burgundy stem, its bowl slightly less wide. The aperture of both glasses is identical but the bowl of the new Pinot Noir stem straightens into a chimney section at its top rather than continuing the flow of the bowl’s curve to the opening of the glass.

Tom gave us each two pours of the same wine, the 2006 Oregon Pinot Noir “Côte Est” from Le Cadeau Vineyard, one in each of the above glasses.

In the Vinum Burgundy glass, the wine gave off heady aromas of black cherry, blackberry and a mix of damp, loamy earth and burnt rubber. Big, chunky fruit followed on the palate, along with a volatile impression of alcohol, separate and distinct from the wine’s more desirable characteristics.

Even on the nose, it was remarkable how much different the wine showed in the Vinum XL Pinot Noir glass. The clumsy aspects were gone, replaced by much higher-toned notes of raspberry and crushed flowers, with a more appealing mineral/earth note. In the mouth, the alcoholic heat was far less noticeable, if at all, while the wine felt more focused and restrained. All the fruit was still there, but acidity was more perceptible and felt in better balance, less washed away by fat and heat as it was in the Burgundy glass.

So, the glass passed the test, delivering an enhanced tasting experience in the context of the wine for which it was designed. The design concept seems to run along the same lines as with Riedel’s Cognac glass, which I wrote about nearly a year ago. The Vinum Burgundy glass seems most appropriate for, well, Burgundy, where a generally lower degree of alcohol and greater delicacy of aroma benefit from a wide, rounded bowl and a sloping aperture which lets those aromas blossom. The Vinum XL Pinot Noir glass, though, as its variety-driven name suggests, seems tailor made for New World Pinot Noir. The narrower bowl keeps a slightly tighter rein on the volatile aspects of high alcohol while the chimney-like opening continues the squeeze, focusing the wine’s positive aromas and delivering a finer flow to the palate. At least that’s my interpretation of the science behind the design.

One needn’t have visited here for long to figure out that I’m, to borrow a term from Allen Meadows, a bit of a Burghound. Given a choice between red Burgundy and Pinot Noir from anywhere in the New World, I’ll go with Burgundy 95 times out of 100. So I’ll most likely be sticking with my good old Burg glasses. If you’re more of an Oregon/California Pinot aficionado, though, these new stems are worth the investment. In this case at least, there’s definitely substance behind the style.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Maia Revisited

My first visit to Maia left me with a sense of the place’s huge potential. That sense, though, was commingled with apprehension as to whether that potential could actually be realized given the daunting scope of the Feury brothers’ new establishment in Villanova, PA. Fine dining room, bistro, market, coffee shop, cafeteria, bakery and bar, all wrapped into one… the likelihood of identity crisis seems more probability than possibility. But based on a mostly positive experience during our first visit for Sunday brunch several weeks back, I didn’t hesitate to return for a second look. This time we opted for dinner. Being in a casual mood, my companions and I again selected the bistro in favor of the more formal upstairs dining room.

The bistro and bar area at Maia.

Things were surprisingly hopping for a Tuesday night in suburbia, particularly at the bar. The combination of low lighting, slightly clubby music and a there-to-be-seen crowd made for a much different atmosphere than on that sunny, quiet Sunday afternoon. We weren’t there to make the Main Line scene, though. We were there to dig a little deeper into the menu. And I was especially keen to explore some of the Alsace-influenced aspects of the menu.

Alsatian Tarte Flambé: Caramelized Onions, Black Forest Ham, Gruyère and Crème Fraîche
Maia’s take on the Alsatian classic, tarte flambé, would rise a quick step up in credibility if it were rectangular, as the traditions of the dish stipulate. Instead, it arrives on a round tray, looking, with its squeeze-bottle squiggles of crème fraîche, more like something from California Pizza Kitchen than from a bistro in Colmar. Its flavor, at least, lands solidly in between. In an ideal rendition, I’d look for a flakier crust, a rougher cut to the onions and a smokier high note from the ham. But as bar food, essentially what this is destined to be, it makes for a reasonable accompaniment to a glass of pilsner or Crémant d’Alsace, and it’s large enough to be shared.

If it's made to look cute, is it really choucroute?

Choucroute: Knockwurst, Bratwurst, Frankfurter, Poppy Seed Roll, Whole Grain Mustard, Relish, Sauerkraut
My first thought when my main course for the evening hit the table was, “Oh, how cute.” Before that first thought had time to finish, though, I was struck with a second: “But wait, choucroute’s not supposed to be cute.” I’m a choucroute lover. I’ve written about it here before. It’s probably the single dish most strongly associated with the culinary traditions of Alsace. The choucroute at Maia has most of the right stuff – an assortment of sausages, sauerkraut and a little extra pork fat for good measure – but lacks at least three ingredients I think of as traditional and key: potatoes, whole black peppercorns and juniper berries.

The overall flavor of Maia’s interpretation is certainly pleasing enough but, as with the tarte flambé, it lacks an edge of brightness. The inclusion of those missing ingredients, along with a firmer snap to the pickled cabbage and a greater diversity in the textural range of the sausages, would go a long way to kicking things up a notch. Even if the cute little crock pots in which the dish is served are maintained, I’d have to question the presence of the poppyseed rolls on the plate. I’m all for a hunk of crusty bread with which to soak up choucroute’s juices, but these little rolls seem to suggest you’re being served a plate of sausage sliders rather than a hearty platter of choucroute garnie. Maybe tradition just isn’t the point, as it seems to have been eschewed here in favor of contemporary cute.

Bambalonis: Cream Filled Beignets, Vanilla Sugar, Lingonberry Sauce
Menu design, especially in the context of language and description, can be a high art form. One of the influencing factors of that art is that a dish can sometimes sound so attractive that one forgets to think about what it actually is. Beignets, for instance, have a certain romantic association. One can’t help but think of a café in Paris or of certain famous eateries in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Adding lingonberries to the mix just throws on a layer of Nordic mystique. Add that all up and it becomes way too easy to overlook the fact that “cream filled beignets, vanilla sugar and lingonberry sauce” is just a fancy way of saying “jelly donuts.” These were damn tasty but, sure enough, tasted just like what they are. Little jelly donuts. Very good, very expensive little jelly donuts.

I suppose I should call the folks at Maia to find out whether it’s their intention to offer traditional Alsatian dishes or simply to reflect a slight Alsatian influence. For that matter, I should ask whether they intend to create a food driven experience or to focus first and foremost on making a splash. Given the interpretation of the classics on Maia’s menu and the bar scene driven feel of the bistro, I can only assume their answer would be weighted toward the latter in both cases, whether or not they’d want to admit it.

Noble concepts, certainly, but shouldn't a restaurant's mission put food first?

Maia Restaurant and Market
789 East Lancaster Avenue
Villanova, PA 19085 [map]
Maia on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 27, 2008

On the Champs-Élysées

Ok, I promise this will be the last cycling post here for at least a little while. I'll get back to food and wine posthaste. But today... today was the final stage of the 2008 Tour de France, a race which has finished on the Champs-Élysées every year since 1979. It has to be one of the most beautiful sporting stages in the world. Just watching the race, I can remember every time I've strolled the Avenue, picture the shops, visualize the insane traffic in the circle around the Arc de Triomphe....

I always wish I were there, absorbing the energy of the passing peloton in person. (Photo copyright and courtesy of AFP Photo.)

Belgian Gert Steegmans benefited from an incredible lead out from his Quick Step teammates to take the final stage.

This year's podium: Carlos Sastre took the yellow, followed by Cadel Evans (second for the second year in a row) with revelation Bernhard Kohl rounding out the top three. (Photo copyright and courtesy of Roberto Bettini Photography.)

Regular programming to resume tomorrow.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Care to Make a Prediction?

Yes, I know this is supposed to be McDuff's Food & Wine Trail, not McDuff's Bike Trail. But what can I say? I'm a nut for the Tour de France and this year's edition has been one of the most exciting, least predictable Tours in recent history. Only three days from the finish in Paris, and with the decisive final time trial looming on Saturday, it's still an open race.

Wednesday's stage, which finished with the legendary, 21-switchback climb up L'Alpe d'Huez, was riveting.

Here's the top ten standings as of this morning:

General classification after stage 18
1. Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC - Saxo Bank, 79.16.14
2. Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank, 1.24
3. Bernhard Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner, 1.33
4. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto, 1.34
5. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank, 2.39
6. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30, 4.41
7. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne, 5.35
8. Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi, 5.52
9. Tadej Valjavec (Slo) AG2R La Mondiale, 8.10
10. Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale, 8.24

My call for the overall? I hate to say it, but I do think that Cadel Evans will overcome the lead that Carlos Sastre built with his win atop the Alpe d'Huez on Wednesday. I'm going patriotic and predicting that Christian Vande Velde will win Saturday's TT but that he lost too much time in Tuesday's Alpine stage to have a shot at the top three. The final podium as I see it: Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov, in that order.

Care to make your own predictions?

And as to other predictions, I may have been premature in my nomination last week for most spectacular unscathed crash of the tour. Barloworld rider John-Lee Augustyn may just have topped it when he overcooked a turn on the descent of the Col de la Bonette and fell down the side of the mountain. He made it back up unharmed, even if his bike didn't.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wines at the Summer Table

Like the concept of a chef’s tasting menu itself, the “with wine pairings” option has its detractors. Those who aren’t fans feel that you’re likely to end up with leftovers in both scenarios. There’s a certain way to avoid the potential pitfalls of at least the first of these two scenarios. Restaurants that offer nothing but a tasting menu are sure to put their best effort and ingredients into your plates. Wine pairings, though, can still be hit or miss. You’re at the mercy of the sommelier (or lack thereof). Pairings can be thoughtful, even inspired or, on the flipside, downright dismal.

Is there a workaround for the wine trap? Sure, though depending on where you are it may narrow your options: choose a spot with a BYO policy. The wine list is yours to make. If the pairings flop, there’s only you, and maybe a little bad luck, to blame. A full-on BYO policy, meaning one with no corkage fee, is a major bonus. Take as few or as many bottles as you’d like. I tend to err on the side of plenty. If you’re going to eat eight dishes over the course of an entire evening, why not try a wine with each? When a few friends and I headed out for dinner at Talula’s Table last week, we did just that.

Mosel Riesling QbA trocken, Freiherr von Heddesdorff 2006
This was the first bottle to hit the table, instantly becoming our de facto aperitif. Von Heddesdorff’s basic QbA’s may not win awards for complexity but they make for an inexpensive and fairly solid introduction to the world of trocken and halbtrocken German Riesling. Though still lean, this was a good deal less austere than when last tasted and carried a refreshing little trace of CO2. Clean, minerally and simple – in a good way. $14.50. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

“La Cravantine,” Domaine Fabrice Gasnier NV
This we paired with our first course, snapper crudo, as the idea of bubbly with just a whisper of rose to its color seemed tailor made for the pink hues and cool textures of the dish. If you missed the AOC designation in the wine name, that’s because there isn’t one. Fabrice Gasnier’s estate is located in Chinon, an AOC district that allows for red, white and rosé but not bubbly. Fabrice makes “La Cravantine” anyway. It’s a Blanc de Noir bubbly, made entirely from Cabernet Franc. And though it’s not vintage dated, it is a single-year wine, this lot being from 2007. A tad softer in acidity and, arguably, a bit simpler than the last couple of versions, its raspberry and floral nuances still make it pretty darn tasty. And it worked, though it’s one of those wines that will work with just about anything. $22. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie “Clos des Allées” Vieilles Vignes, Domaine de la Grange (Pierre Luneau-Papin) 2005
Pure mineral springs. There’s a limestone and saline quality at play, but really, really subtle. Crisp up front and surprisingly creamy on the finish. A very pretty wine, one that asks you to tune in rather than shouting for attention. This was one of my favorite pairings of the night, matched to a buttery lobster and summer squash tart. A bigger, richer white would have blown the delicacy of the lobster out of the water. $14. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.

Viré-Clessé “Vieilles Vignes,” Domaine André Bonhomme 2004
This is in a really good place right now. Smelling it, at least initially, reminds me of fresh, dry dirt, kicked up in the infield of a baseball diamond. Bonhomme’s ‘04s were initially a little plump but this has clearly shed some fat and taken on a greater depth of minerality since last tasted. Hallmark to his wines, there’s a creamy core of yellow peach fruit and a taut finishing grip. This wine and the next were sampled back and forth with two dishes: a mushroom, goat cheese and corn “papusa” and a tartine of smoked sable. No match was spot-on but both wines provided points of interest with each dish. $30. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Brda Chardonnay, Movia 2000
I was surprised when my good blog-fellow Jeremy Parzen recently mentioned that he’d never noticed the oak influence in Movia’s wines. I say that because I’ve yet to taste a wine from Movia where an oak influence wasn’t present and detectable. What I like about Movia’s wines, though, is that they’re not o-a-k-y. Instead, the oak is integrated, eaten up by and at one with the wine. As Dr. J points out in his excellent post, that’s a good thing, exactly the intention of Movia winemaker Aleš Kristančič. I’m not sure this was a perfect bottle (it was picked up at risk, a back vintage at closeout pricing at a local PLCB shop). Run-up on the cork suggested the likelihood of some heat damage, as did a slight disjoint in the wine’s alcohol profile. Nonetheless, it came alive with the food, applying a fine balance between muscle, acidity and mellow fruit, in spite of its tarnished condition. There’s a more in-depth tasting of Aleš’ wines lurking somewhere in my future. $16. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York, NY.

Burgenland Zweigelt, Paul Achs 2006
I first had Paul Achs’ Zweigelt at a restaurant in Vienna a couple of years back. My memories of it were fond and this bottle didn’t disappoint. Achs makes real Zweigelt. Not oaked up or adorned with an international gloss, it’s chunky, spicy and exuberant. Think of loganberry and blueberry fruit and a dash of cinnamon along with a meaty rusticity, good acidity and just enough tannin to make your mouth water. This bottle was a bit short on the finish but that’s my only complaint. A solid match, it echoed and complemented the gaminess of the barbecued squab with which it was served. $26. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Vin DiVino, Chicago, IL.

Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine Combier 2000
In spite of the Italianate nature of the final savory course of the evening, the thought of beef tortellini with fresh tomato sauce and fried eggplant somehow cried out to me for Syrah. I’ve written up Laurent Combier’s wines before, here and here, but it was only in the 2000 vintage that I laid them down in any quantity. This bottle not only reminded me of why but made me wish there was more left. Heady scents of olives, macerated red berries, cedar and spice. Impeccable balance. The kind of wine that tends to raise eyebrows and result in scratched heads because it’s so different from what many people anticipate. As my instincts told me to expect, it was great with the food. (PS: I preferred Combier’s old label design.) $20 on release. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Sancerre, Domaine du Carrou (Dominique Roger) 2007
At this point, I suppose we could probably have gone back to the other open bottles for some small tastes to accompany the cheese course. But there it was, a bottle of Sancerre, just asking to be opened. Sauvignon Blanc does offer versatility with cheese, after all. Dominique Roger produces, year in and year out, a pretty straightforward example of Sancerre from Bué, crisp, limestone-driven, relatively elegant and without any of the catty or clumsy characteristics that SB often packs as unwanted baggage. His ’07 is light, fruity and typical. A touch meek for many of the evening’s cheese selections but refreshing nonetheless. $25. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Moscato d’Asti, G. D. Vajra 2005
The combination of fizziness and loads of residual sugar makes it easy for Moscato based stickies to mask flaws. When they’re done right, though, as Aldo Vajra’s always are, they can be downright delicious. It makes sense, as Aldo farms biodynamically and harvests pristine fruit. And his winemaking staff watches the Moscato non-stop during its short fermentation cycle to ensure that everything is just right. Common wisdom suggests that Moscato d’Asti should be drunk as young as possible. While I don’t disagree, this bottle was still quite good, even after getting lost in my cellar for the last two years. The intense floral and grapey characteristics inherent in its youth had morphed into a rounder, subtler creature. Yet it was still undeniably good. When in doubt, if actually pairing with sweet thereafters, there’s no more versatile “dessert wine.” $16 on release. 5.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

“Nocino,” Fattoria Cescana
One of my dining companions, Natale Caccamo, makes a homebrew of sorts, a digestivo he calls “Nocino.” Based on organic green walnuts, along with a proprietary list of herbs and aromatics (a little bird told me that espresso, clove, orange peel and cinnamon may play a role), it put just the right finishing touch on a great meal and a slew of good wines, enjoyed among friends. 70 proof.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

WBW 47 Roundup and WBW 48 Announcement

Michelle and Erin of Grape Juice have posted their summary of last month’s edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, which was all about wines somehow starting with the letter “S.” As I expected, they called me out for being a bit curmudgeonly in regards to their Sesame Street inspired theme. Good sports that they are, they took it in stride, even awarding me double points for writing up a wine with a leading “S” in both the place of origin and the winery’s name. Feel free to revisit my review of the 2007 Coste della Sesia Rosato “Rosa del Rosa” from Proprietà Sperino. But definitely be sure to check out the full roundup at Grape Juice. It can be a great way to stumble upon some new blogs and, who knows, maybe even discover a good wine or two along the way.

Next month marks the 4th Anniversary of the inception of WBW, so the whole party is going right back to its roots. WBW founder and original host Lenn Thompson will be leading the show at LennDevours. His theme? Take it back to your roots. In Lenn’s own words:

“We're all wine lovers, but we have gotten where we are today in a variety of ways on a variety of paths. These long, windy paths are littered with wines the world over. I just want you to pick one of the wines from the beginning of your journey, taste it again for the first time in a while, and tell us about it.

Maybe you remember the very first wine you ever tasted. Try it again.

Or maybe there was one wine that you drank a lot of when you were still a wine neophyte. That'd be fun too….”

Reports are due to Lenn on Wednesday, August 13, 2008. I’m looking forward to some scary revelations.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Early Summer at Talula's Table

The phone at Talula's still rings off the hook at the crack of dawn each day, as eager diners-to-be wear out their speed dial buttons hoping to be the first caller -- the phone is answered at 7:00 AM sharp, not before -- for the elusive year-out reservation in Talula's main "dining room." Question the veracity of that year-long wait as much as you like; it's for real. The farmhouse table remains one of the country's most sought after bookings. Over the last few months, though, owners Bryan Sikora and Aimee Olexy have been opening the doors to their kitchen, making dinner at Talula's a possibility for an increasing number of lucky diners.

A pinch of that luck was with me as I recently headed out to Kennett Square for dinner at Talula's, beckoned by the lure of their new seasonal menu and an open seat at the kitchen table.

A large, butcher block counter in the center of Talula's spacious kitchen can be set to accommodate two-to-four diners, while still being utilized as one of the cooks' central prep areas.

The kitchen table places diners in the midst of the action. It's certainly less elegant and buttoned-up than at the main farmhouse table, but it's every bit as fun. Arriving a few minutes prior to the 7:30 dinner bell allows a few minutes to settle in, relax and observe. We caught Paul and Tyler in the midst of prepping some baby squash (above).

At the other corner of the table, Aimee Olexy worked on the evening's flower arrangement, centered around blossoms from her home garden. Our first course arrived not long after she delivered her finishing touches.

Snapper Crudo, Cucumber, Olive Oil, Exotic Pepper
With its light, crisp and refreshing interplay of textures, the first dish of the night highlighted Sikora's gift for crafting beautiful expressions of seasonality. Watermelon radish, watermelon gelée and citrus accents brought a shower of summer flavors to play.

Summer Squash Tart, Buttery Lobster, Lobster Emulsion and Fennel Jam
Another perfect expression of the season. The simplicity of squash played off against rich, tender morsels of butter infused lobster, while a jam of diced, braised fennel brought out the best in both. Piquant and rich, yet still light on its feet.

The action continues throughout dinner, always making for a lively feel in the kitchen. Bryan, Tyler, Robert and Paul were hard at work all night, composing each course at one of the room's main workstations.

Organic Local Mushroom and Goat Cheese Papusa "Authentique," Wild Epazote and Sweet Corn
Smoked whiteheat and bell peppers brought an unexpected, haunting finishing flavor to the soulful earthiness of local mushrooms, all grounded by the starchy sweetness of fresh corn.

My only problem with eating in the kitchen is that it's so engaging that I occasionally get distracted from my record keeping duties. On this night, I somehow managed to neglect snapping a picture of the fourth course. Warm Tartine of Smoked Alaskan Sable, Whipped Turnip and Chorizo Oil. I certainly enjoyed it though.... A much more subtle dish than the description had me thinking; again, it's all about interplay, discourse and depth of flavor. The smokiness of the chorizo and sable were brought to earth by a creamy purée of turnip and potato.

My chief partner in crime for the evening was Natale Caccamo, pictured here along with Talula's Tasting Menu Chef, Robert Lhulier. Nat is an all around good guy with a passion for food who's also an aspiring blogger, though he's yet to take his work public. Robert joined the staff at Talula's Table about a month back to support Chef Sikora's work on the nightly tastings. His local background includes stints at Wilmington institutions Deep Blue and Harry's Savoy Grill, as well as a run as chef/owner at the regrettably short-lived Chef's Table at the David Phinney Inn in New Castle, DE.

Also contributing to my shutter-forgetfulness were Maggie and Franz Lidz, who are both market regulars at Talula's. Maggie is the Estate Historian at Winterthur Museum, a spot well worth visiting if you're looking for additional justification for a trip out to Talula's location in the Brandywine Valley. Franz, author of Unstrung Heroes and formerly a Senior Writer at Sports Illustrated, also writes about food from time to time. He's now a Contributing Editor at Condé Nast Portfolio, where he penned the piece that stoked the flames of the national press' frenzy regarding the rarefied nature of a reservation at Talula's Table.

Squabs at rest, post-fate, pre-destiny.

Barbecued Squab, Creamy Squab Risotto, Quick Pickle Summer Vegetable Salad
One of the most memorable dishes of the night, the squab's gamy flavor profile was offset by spice imbued during a slow turn at the barbecue. Bryan's risotto is always a treat. This version was enriched with cheddar and squab broth, with palate refreshing zing provided by the bright snap of quick-pickled kohlrabi and carrots.

Beef Tortellini, Early Girl Tomato Sauce, Fried Eggplant
Even with hearty ingredients, the kitchen always seems to deliver delicacy and a light touch. There was amazing depth of flavor here, with the braising liquid from the beef shortribs added to enrich the tomato sauce, which was in turn brightened by oregano and basil fresh from Aimee and Bryan's garden.

World of Cheese... Seven Countries, Seven Tastes, Talula's Charcuterie and Condiments
Dinner is never complete without a sampling from the cheese monger's case. Aimee and her staff have cultivated close relationships with some of the best small dairies and specialty distributors in both the neighborhood and across the country. The selection for the evening included: Old Kentucky Tomme from Indiana's Capriole Farm; Tomme Crayeuse (Savoie, France); Comté (from the Swiss side of the border); Manchego (La Mancha, Spain); Testun al Barolo (Piedmont, Italy); Isle of Mull Cheddar (Scotland); and Stitchelton, a raw milk blue in the style of Stilton (England).

How I managed to neglect snapping another shot, this time of the dessert course, I don't know. But the Vanilla Crepe Terrine, White Chocolate Granite and Cherry Coulis was ethereal. Truffles from West Chester chocolatier Éclat put the finishing touch on a great meal.

Chef de Dégustation, Robert Lhulier relaxed, deep in thought it would seem, at the end of the night.

What about wine? It would have been way too much to include tasting notes from the evening in the context of this piece but you can find them, along with photos, in my subsequent post, Wines at the Summer Table.

Talula's Table
102 West State Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

Previous visits:

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Savoring Le Tour

Earlier this year, I dreamed up the idea of writing a daily wine and/or spirits post that would follow the daily path of the Tour de France. Those good intentions never came to fruition, as the time necessary to map out the course and lay out the plans for what to cover seemed to elude me. Maybe next year…. Until then, one of the fringe benefits to following the tour, aside from the drama of racing, remains watching the race caravan course through the French countryside, much of it through wine country. In spite of the undesirable melodrama of the sport’s continuing problems with doping, simply watching the race provides one of the sporting world’s greatest spectacles.

Yesterday's stage passed near the Pont du Gard, on the outskirts of Nîmes, while today's route takes the racers not far from the stark beauty of Les Baux.

Now at its midpoint, this year’s edition of Le Tour is currently smack-dab in the heart of the southern French vignoble. Yesterday’s Stage 13 snaked through the Gard and Hérault to its finish in Nîmes, while today’s leg runs through St. Rémy de Provence on its rolling route through the countryside toward the foothills of the French Alps.

Mark Cavendish, the young sprinter from the Isle of Man who rides for Team Columbia, has been the revelation of this year's Tour. He took yesterday's stage, his fourth stage win (so far), coming out of a boxed-in position to win in the clear. His explosive jump and pure high-end speed are clearly making him the sprinter of the moment. (Image copyright and courtesy of AFP Photo.)

Cooking up ideas for the blog can be fun but my real dream, in this context, remains actually going to the Tour, riding parts of the course, and watching the mountain stages, or perhaps the finish in Paris, in situ. Until then, I'll settle for living vicariously. In honor of today's route, enjoying a chilled glass of Provençal rosé while watching the stage coverage would be just the ticket.

Every edition of Le Tour seems to provide at least one spectacular crash in which the victim somehow manages to emerge relatively unscathed. This crash in yesterday's Stage 13 will be hard to top.
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